CTV Recap & Pictures

by Element Christian Church

Have you ever woken up in the morning with an acute awareness of every muscle in your body?  That was me on Saturday morning, the day after CTV ended.  I guess I’m just not used to jumping up and down for hours at a time anymore.  Who knew? 

CTV was a huge success and that was mainly due to the amazing servants and families that came out to participate.  For those of you who weren’t able to participate, or don’t know what CTV is and was, Change Their View (CTV) was a chance for our families to get crazy together in the name of Jesus!  We danced together, did science experiments together that followed biblical discoveries from scripture and generally had an amazing time.  Weird scientists like Dr. Hairball and Dr. Lipschtick (say that ten times fast, yikes), slime experiments and magnetic discoveries all drove home the point that we need Jesus and His grace in a big way. 

The crowning jewel of CTV had to be the block party where we invited the entire church and our new neighbors to eat tri tip with us and hang out.  Through the block party we got to meet some of our neighbors behind us and build relationships with some of our Delta friends as well.  All in all, a huge success! 

Check out the pics below to see what CTV looked like, and plan on attending the next one (but let my muscles recover a little first!) 

End of Summer Neighborhood Block Party

by Element Christian Church

All are welcome to Element's End of Summer Block Party this Friday night from 6-9pm at Element. There will be fun activities for all including bounce houses. Free Hotdogs for kids and $10 BBQ Sandwich meals for adults (neighbors of Element eat free!) We would love to have you join us. Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. if you have any questions.

End of Summer Block Party

 

What if Singleness is Your Normal? Part 3B

by Holly DeKorte

“Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.”  Proverbs 31:25 

Editor’s note: Holly’s last blog ended up being long enough that we broke it into 2 weeks. You can find the first half of this BLOG HERE.) Holly has been sharing her story of singleness with the hope it will encourage God’s people to love and value countercultural singles in a tangible way. If you missed Aaron message you can find it HERE. Now, on to the last blog in this series.

6. Do life with God- that means in a Gospel Centered community.
This is the point where I could be called many things including (but not limited to): bitter, cynical, judgmental, critical, and unforgiving. These are attitudes of my heart that I know can be dark and sinful. Yet, I want to tell the truth out of love.

Do you know where, as a single, I have felt the most pain and heartache? It hasn’t been with my family or at work. It hasn’t been with my friends, enjoying their company. It has been at Element and Element functions But, but, but...we’re Element! We do church “differently”; we’re not like those “other” churches! In my experience, there is sometimes a glass wall that separates singles from those who are married. The glass wall is not always present, but do I run into it at Element and it hurts. Debating who is responsible for the wall does not help us to actually break it down. Ephesians 4:13-16 shows us a picture of how the Church should be: joined with our head (Christ) and held together through Him. Glass walls should not exist at all.

It is rather easy to be unseen or overlooked as a single in any church. Programs catering to families and children are often the norm. We, at Element, pride ourselves on the fact that our church has Gospel Community (GC), not programs. You are supposed to be seen and known in GC. This has been my experience, to a certain extent. Here’s a question for you, though… What do you do if there is a single in another GC who is at your church? Do you think to yourself, “Oh, he is someone else’s responsibility,” or do you think, “What could I do to get to know that individual?” My point is Element is the Body of Christ. We, not only our GCs, are supposed to be a family. Look beyond your Gospel Community! See others who happen to be in your view. Engage them in conversation. You might even find yourself a new swimming buddy.

Oftentimes, singles are the ones initiating friendships. My most valued relationships at Element are definitely reciprocated. Many include walks, talks, beach trips, pool trips, kids’ soccer games, and wine nights. I am grateful for these friendships and by no means want to minimize them. However, more can be done. Random text messages are gifts. It means someone is thinking of me. In a world where I have not met the “one” on whose mind I’ll always be, this is encouraging. I am a busy person, but I do have flexibility in my schedule. Sunday afternoon is an especially vulnerable time for me, as I imagine weekends may be for other singles. Usually my grocery shopping is done, I’ve spent time with my family, the papers are graded, the chores are completed, and then I am alone. If you get a text from me on Sunday, it is me literally crying out for company. On my end, I need to be better about planning dinners with people. What could you do on your end? It’s something I challenge you to prayerfully consider.

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What if Singleness is Your Normal? Part 3A

by Holly DeKorte

“Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.”  Proverbs 31:25 

Last week, we began looking at the points from Aaron’s sermon on singleness and how they have realistically played out in my own life. I am sharing my story of singleness with the hope it will encourage God’s people to love and value countercultural singles in a tangible way. Let us continue looking at the last four points (editor’s note, we split the last blog into 2 weeks because of the length. This blog will cover points 4 and 5 from Aaron’s message found HERE. Next week will finish with points 6 and 7).   

4. Get your life in order before inviting others into it.
As you may have inferred from the last two blog posts, I am a romantic idealist with achiever-like tendencies. Point number four is the most dangerous for people like me. “Get your life in order” has the potential to morph into works-righteousness, the belief that one can earn God’s favor or blessings. In my twenties, I believed that “getting your life in order” meant getting a master’s degree. Most recently, I went back to school for my Administrator Credential. My job is stable, my savings account is solid, and I even own a house here in Santa Maria. I am prepared for marriage and family! (Proverbs 24:27).   

Friends, marriage is a gift, and it is not a gift that I can hope to earn, nor one that I am owed. Marriage is actually one of the first gifts given by the Creator and Sustainer of all things. Yes, there is responsibility on our part. If you are playing video games all the time, are partying like its 1999, or are not living a healthy lifestyle, then I would venture to say you are probably not ready for marriage. These kinds of behaviors are not in step with the way of wisdom Proverbs describes. HOWEVER, God still gives this gift to those who we would say are not prepared. I do not pretend to know the mind of God, but I have seen how marriage has been used to help young people grow up. There is nothing like a sick baby to mature a man!  

I have been told so many times, “Holly, marriage will come when you least expect it!” There is a problem with this... now I have something that I need to do. I need to NOT expect marriage.  William Carey, a Protestant missionary once said, “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.” Though the theology can be debated, this quote reflects how God has created me as an individual. Placing the “no expectation” expectation on me might as well be telling me not to breathe! Instead of taking a works-centered approach to marriage, I need to be reminded that God is the trustworthy giver of gifts. He has currently gifted me with singleness. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, that I can do that will earn me the marriage gift.

5. Guard your heart.
This point is perhaps the most countercultural of all. Guess what? I desire physical intimacy... isn’t that shocking? A Christian single woman wants “that!” She must be sinning! Quick! Judge her for wanting the rights of marriage! Tell her that at least she has friends and family who love her!  Friendship love must be able to take the place of marriage love, right? My heart breaks for all single Christians who find themselves with this unmet, Godly desire, and especially for those who do not feel the freedom to express this grief. We are called quite clearly to marriage and sex only between a husband and wife. Aaron has described this as “the normative call God places on His people.” God proclaims marriage good. He uses marriage to build His Church and also as an illustration of the intimacy He shares with His Church. It is not wrong to desire this call; however, it is wrong (as I discussed last week) to make marriage an idol. Let us assume that most countercultural singles desire marriage, and also desire God’s will above their own. How on earth are they to survive in a sex-crazed culture? 

Firstly, I must speak the Gospel to myself daily. My hope is in God alone. It is not in an online dating site. It is not in a man. It is not in family or friends. It is in the One who came to restore His creation back to good. It is in the One who died a death of substitutionary atonement. It is in the One who breaks the chains of Satan, sin, and death. The Gospel keeps my desire for God first in my heart. I desire to proclaim His name among the nations, to reflect His glory, and to disciple others to Him. As the hymn goes, “Thou and thou only first in my heart; High King of heaven my treasure thou art.”

Secondly, I must realize how my heart is guarded. Philippians 4:7 states, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Jesus is the guardian of my heart; He gives me peace that I do not understand. He really has all authority. As I date someone, I earnestly pray, “God, if this is not the relationship you have for me, open my eyes. Make it clear. Intercede and fight for me.” He does and sometimes I fight back, trying to hold onto something that isn’t right (more about that in point 7). My will does, eventually, become God’s will. My heart is placed in His care. The world of promiscuity is tempting, yet my desire for God is stronger.   

As the Church, pray. Pray that those living a countercultural single life will see how God uses them to proclaim His name and pray that their foremost desire is for Him. Also, if you know singles who are compatible (meaning they both currently walk with the Lord, are in the same age range, have similar lifestyles, and desire to be married), play matchmaker! Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. That is okay! Many singles appreciate an introduction and look at it as an opportunity to get to know someone new. Always check with both individuals, though, before proceeding and certainly pray about it.

 

What if Singleness is Your Normal? Part Two

by Holly DeKorte

“Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.”  Proverbs 4:23

Last week I left you on a bit of a cliff hanger. I shared how God brought me back to Santa Maria and how the attitude of my heart was challenged as He was guiding me home. Finding myself back in Santa Maria meant something of an identity crisis that I inadvertently placed on myself.  I wasn’t “Holly, Child of the Most High King.” I was, “Holly, Matt’s sister,” “Holly, the DeKortes’ daughter,” “Holly, the world traveler who moved back home,” “Holly, the teacher,” and “Holly, the single.” In the years that have followed, God worked through His Word, the Holy Spirit, and even His Church to renew, redeem, and restore my identity. 

Aaron’s sermon on singleness is an excellent platform to discuss how God has accomplished this mighty task of restoring my identity and equipping me to live as a counter-cultural single.  The seven sermon points will also show how we, the Church, the Bride of Christ, can do a better job of valuing and loving singles. Let’s face it...singles need a whole lotta love, but probably not how you might expect! I don’t need another meme sent to me about waiting on the Lord. I need your families. I need your hugs.  I need laughter.  I need the Gospel.

1. Open your eyes and look around to what God is doing.
In my own words, be willing to accept the gifts that God has given or will give. This might be lifelong singleness or finding yourself as a stepparent to three kids. We do not get to dictate God’s grace in our lives, but we have the choice to be obedient to His call. He sees the bigger picture and knows our hearts! I’ve wrestled with this quite a bit and have had many a conversation with God about it. “But God, what if I don’t like the person you bring into my life?!”   Remember, He is a good father. Good fathers discipline and establish character in a loving, non-abusive, non-manipulative way.  

Looking around to what God is doing has helped me move past self-centeredness. Just this past fall, I took a class called Perspectives on World Mission (which I HIGHLY recommend).  God used the class to break my heart for those who do not know Him, who have not heard the good news of the Gospel. After taking the class, I began to believe that God might be calling me back overseas as a tentmaker missionary (one who has a “regular” job, and spreads the Gospel through working the job and living a Gospel-centered life.)  I met with a life coach, and he encouraged me to look around at what God might have me do here in Santa Maria instead.  That led to joining a prayer team for unreached people groups and also becoming involved with Royal Family Kids. Let me tell you, God has opened my eyes and saved me from my self-centered thinking. There is SO much He is doing in Santa Maria. Praise Him!

2. Don’t idolize (or idealize!) any relationship, worship Jesus!
This is where things get messy. In fact, I don’t really like to talk about it. Four years ago, I heard quite clearly to “be still,” specifically regarding singleness. Do you know how hard it is to be still and to try not to control your own life? A few years ago, I had had enough. I saw God giving good gifts to “everyone,” but me. I jumped on a dating site and met a man, who didn’t follow Christ or honor God. Yet, I let him into my life and heart because I so very much wanted marriage and a family. God, like He has done with all my relationships, protected me, and the relationship ended. Like the mother hen, He sheltered me under His wings. I got angry; I questioned His love for me. He took away what I wanted and I threw a fit, just like toddlers and even seasoned Christians are known to do. 

This led me to Redemption Groups, a ministry offered at Element. In my group, I was challenged to see marriage as what I had made it: an idol.  Michelle Gee asked me, “Would you still love God even if he never gave you a husband?” In my anger, I couldn’t answer that I would.  During the weeks that followed, God clearly showed me that He loves me. The phrase “the steadfast love of the Lord,” began to jump out at me while reading scripture. The Psalms especially illustrate how God’s children can cry out to Him, and by doing so, are reminded of God’s unfailing love (Psalm 145).  

I can’t say that stillness and knowing that God loves me came overnight. I had another big bump or two along the way, but Redemption Groups was definitely the catalyst God used in revealing my idol of marriage and who alone is worthy of worship. 

Brothers and sisters, please stand by the Christian singles who will need to grapple with that very difficult question: “Would you still love God even if He never gave you a spouse?” Pray that the Holy Spirit will open their eyes and hearts, that they will undoubtedly know their lives belong to God alone. Do not shame them; do cry with them. Do not give them false hope or stories about a 70-year-old woman who finally met her husband; do point to the source of all hope.

3. Seek wisdom and understanding.
My family is a picture of a gift I could not begin to deserve. God gave me wise, understanding parents who continue to walk beside me through this season of my life. Their support has not always been perfect, but their wise counsel and prayers have helped me to live a counter-cultural life. When they do not have the counsel that I need, they point me to people who might. “Talk to your brother. Talk to your sister (in-law).  Talk to your married friends. Talk to Deb Harman. Talk to God.” My mom will often say these words, sometimes in one sentence. Its great advice given by a great mom. 

I still have a desire for marriage, so a few months ago, I started talking to the four members of my immediate family about re-joining dating sites. I wanted them to give me feedback on my heart and whether it was ready for the online dating rollercoaster.  The last two months indeed have been an up and down journey.  Imagine receiving paragraphs and paragraphs from an eligible man and then the messages abruptly stop.  Imagine beginning a conversation with a person who then wants to meet you the very next day.  Imagine men who like to post pictures in their underwear and then wonder why you don’t feel comfortable Facetiming them. Imagine meeting someone with potential and then letting that person go.  My family and close friends continue to pray for me through this process. I am so thankful for their wisdom and support.

Next week, we will look at Aaron’s last four remaining sermon points regarding singleness. In the meantime, find a single to invite over for dinner! Get to know his or her story. You might be surprised to find a passionate, God-loving heart hidden behind the “single” identity.

What if Singleness is Your Normal? Part One

by Holly DeKorte

“The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” Proverbs 16:9

I love my life. Truly, I do. However, my life does not look like the typical almost-forty-year-old woman’s life. There is no husband to love, no children of my own to nurture, and no goodnight kisses, prayers, or hugs. I know what you are thinking. I know, because I have been told...

“Be thankful that you don’t have an abundance of dishes to do!”  

“Enjoy doing what you want to do; you don’t have to worry about anyone else!”

“Treasure those quiet, peaceful moments at home. If you’re married, you have to compromise ALL the time!”

“You’re so lucky you don’t have to get kids home to bed.”

Singleness is a gift that I have not always wanted. In my ordered scheme of things, I would be married with four children by now. As William Shakespeare might say in this context, singleness was thrust upon me!  God in his goodness, has taught me and shepherded me through this very, very long season of learning to navigate singleness. His rod and staff have guided me and comforted me. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing a bit of what it means to live as a counter-cultural single, how I have failed, and how the Church can become equipped to love and value singles. Important to note: every single person has a different story. I am only telling the story that God has written for me.  

So, my story…

After college, I had two assumptions: 1) I’d get a job, and 2) I’d get married. The job came (albeit in Bakersfield!), but no husband. So...I did what achievers do and earned a Master’s degree. Feeling accomplished, I again assumed that God would send me a husband. After all, I had a house that I owned, an excellent job, two degrees, a solid knowledge and love of the Lord, and a pretty great personality! I was a twenty-six year old grown-up. My expectation was that God would soon partner me with someone with whom I could build a family, especially since my part of the “life equation” appeared in order.  During this time, God started to fan a different desire, one that had been placed in me as a teenager. On the eve of my twenty-ninth birthday, I was hired to teach at an international school in Albania. I sold my house, quit my job, and eight months later moved to the Balkans.

Teaching overseas was an absolute joy. I did miss my family and friends, but revelled in the experience. My mom always calls my time in Albania, “the perfect storm.”  I was gifted with fellow adventurers. Practically the minute I arrived, I met three other single girls who loved people, traveling, fun, wine, and food. Our shared interests united us.  Here, my singleness did not ostracize me from community; it gave me community. This was freeing. Then, after two years, I moved to Ukraine where I was greeted with different community. There were many Christian couples with small children.  The couples embraced me as a sister and the children loved me as an auntie. The burden of singleness was not so heavy with others to share it. I am thankful that while I lived overseas God gave me opportunities to travel, work with orphans, share the Gospel, live in authentic community with other Christians, and truly love people who think and behave differently than me. He was expanding my heart and I believed I had found my life’s purpose.  

After teaching for two years in Albania and three years in Ukraine, God gave me a different call.  “Move home,” He said. A peace I never knew before surrounded me as I searched for jobs back home in California. I pictured myself in the Bay Area or Sacramento, surrounded by movers and shakers and ideal would-be marriage partners. However, God’s call was literal. I applied to over one hundred teaching positions in Northern California and no doors opened. I started questioning my decision to move home--whether I really had heard from God, or if it was just a wave of homesickness. By then, I was humbled enough to apply in Santa Maria just weeks after I had informed my mother, “I will NEVER move back to Santa Maria.”  (I didn’t have high hopes for life as an older single in a small town.) Within days, of course, I had two job interviews lined up and then a solid job offer. I was home.

Next week I will be focusing on the points from Aaron’s Singleness sermon and how those points have shown up in my experience as a single.  Now you have the backstory.

The Dreaded Category

by Nicole Teixeira

Before I share my thoughts regarding singleness I would like to state the views and opinions expressed are based on my experiences and interpretation of Christ living in my life.  

This past Sunday Aaron gave a sermon on singleness and my first thought was, “If I have to listen to another sermon on singleness I’m going…”  My second thought was, “this is probably the last time I will listen to a sermon on singleness as a single woman.”  My wedding is scheduled for later this year!  Since my engagement I have been thinking about the 20 years I have been an adult single (I’m 36).  Twenty years seems a bit dramatic because I probably would not have been married at 16, but this is the age I was allowed to date, the year my dad gave me a promise ring, and the year I really started thinking about being in a dating relationship with the hopes of marriage.  I desired to be married at a very young girl, but at the age of 16 it seemed like the start into the chapter of relationships.  I read books about dating, I listened intently in youth group, and I prayed asking Jesus to protect my future husband.  This is all great, but the journey which lay ahead was filled with much disillusionment and disappointment.

The summer of 2011 Aaron did a sermon series titled “The Summer of Love.”  I officially called it “The Summer of Pain” because I was still raw from a year long relationship ending because I would not compromise myself or rather “because of my rules” the relationship was not going to work.  Although, I am glad this relationship did not end in marriage, it was still a loss which I was grieving.  The sermon series seemed to put salt in the broken wound and remind me that I was not married and not even close to being married.  

I share this story because the church can be one of the loneliest places for a single person. Being in a room full of married individuals of all ages and seeing their children can be very difficult when you do not fit into this category. Aaron stated on Sunday that our society does not promote healthy singleness, but from my experience, neither does the church.  I am not stating this specifically about Element, although at times I have experienced it at Element, I am speaking about it as the Christian Church and Christian culture.  Yes, majority of the population seems to get married or at least cohabitate, but a single woman in her late 20’s or early 30’s who is questioned as to why she is not dating someone as to insist something is wrong with them is unacceptable. Although I have energy around being verbally questioned or patronized I believe Christ calls us to live day in and day out in the different seasons of life He allows us to go through. At the age of 36 I have had many years in the season of singleness and as my wedding is fast approaching I have found myself actually grieving the loss of my singleness.  

I do not want this to sound like I am not excited about my singleness coming to an end...Mark (my fiancée), I love you.  I am excited to become a wife and commit my body and soul to one man, but I also know marriage, just like singleness is going to bring a new set of challenges. I have not wasted my singleness and took advantage of the freedom and flexibility to follow my dreams.  And although I have been single for all of my adult life I have had the companionship of close family and my few kindred spirits.  Mark asked me last week what I was looking forward to the most about getting married and I said, “knowing who I am going to marry and not living in the tension anymore.”  

I could write an entire blog about living in the tension as a Christian woman who is dating, but what I found myself thinking about even as I write this blog is the concern I had over what society thought of me because I was “of a certain age and not married.”  How much more could I have enjoyed my life if I focused on the season I was living instead of the new season I wanted to be in?  I wanted to be classified into a different category, a category I felt had more respect and less judgement than a single woman. 

My prayer would be for the Church and society to view singleness, not as a category nor as a state which is inferior to the happiness of being married. My prayer is for single women and men to strive to live a life of integrity.  I have witnessed, if you cannot be trusted in the small things it is impossible to find contentment or happiness in a relationship where the goal is marriage.  Having integrity is such a better category to be put into than being placed into the category of a single woman. 

I Am The Monkey

by Aaron

There is this old saying that goes, “Monkey See Monkey Do.” It means when we see someone do something dumb, we are more inclined to do that dumb thing. Today I was the monkey when I had an encounter that revealed how terrible I am and how my natural reactions are NOT like how Jesus would react. I drove down to the Santa Maria post office and pulled into a spot pretty far from the door. As I got out of my truck, I looked up just in time to see a bearded man in disheveled clothes (no, not Jon Gee) ride an aqua blue beach cruiser directly in front of me. He didn’t stop…he just rode in circles. I smiled, ducked my head to say, “Hello,” and he yelled, “F*@K YOU” at me.

I was a little taken aback. I thought I was being nice and unobtrusive someone yelling an expletive isn’t the typical cultural response in these situations. He made another circle on his bike, yelled, “F*@K YOU” again and punched the rear fender well of my truck. He then eyeballed me and said, “What are you going to do about that?” That question should have made me stop and think before reacting, and ask myself, “What are you going to do about that?” Instead of pausing a beat, I asked him if I needed to call the police.

Here is a good bit of advice if you have not spent a lot of time dealing with some of the mentally unstable homeless people in our city: do not engage in rational conversation. You can call for help, but do not expect that rationality will get them to be rational. His response was an ever louder, “F*@K YOU” accompanied by a finger gesture that essentially meant the same thing. I probably could have diffused the situation a bit by asking if I could pray for him in any way (asking to pray for people usually makes them pause for a moment because they can’t figure you out). Instead, I fell into my natural state without Jesus, sarcasm. I didn’t yell, but I also didn’t see the brokenness of his humanity as he rode away flipping me off and yelling his expletive. In the end, we probably just looked like two mentally unstable people trying to have a dialogue about what the nature of “F*@K YOU” actually meant.

I tell you this story because as we go through our series on Proverbs, wisdom, and counter culture, I want you to know how hard it is to actually live differently in our world. The second the guy was out of my line of sight (and hearing), I stopped and asked myself if I made anything better with my reaction and sarcasm; the answer was no. My first response wasn’t Jesus’ response, which would have been to recognize this man’s brokenness…instead, my first response was, “What a jerk, I can out think him” (which is debatable). In the end, what I realized was my own less-than-stellar emotional and cognitive intelligence in functioning as God’s image bearer in this world.

I so often speak about Matthew 25 and looking for and acknowledging the “least of these” in our society, but when confronted in a way I didn’t like, I didn’t respond as I hoped I would. In Hebrews 13:2 the author speaks about entertaining strangers, who may be angels in disguise. Whether the author is speaking metaphorically or literally, it makes me think of this TV show where they set up uncomfortable circumstances and film them to see what people would do. As I went about the rest of my day, I thought about that moment because it was so surreal. Someone could have easily jumped out of a bush and asked, “Why did you respond that way?” My answer might have been “I don’t know,” but the real answer is that the circumstance reveals what is truly in my heart.

Last Sunday I mentioned the illustration by Amy Carmichael, who was a missionary to India in the early 20th century. She speaks of two glasses of water—one filled with sweet pure water and one filled with bitter dirty water. She says when you bump the glass, what comes out is simply what is in the cup already. The bump didn’t turn pure water into bitter; the bump reveals what is already in the cup. We will be bumped against our entire lives; in those moments, we get the great blessing of seeing what is truly in our cup…and what was in mine wasn’t the greatest.

It is also in these moments of reflection that I am reminded I don’t need to live in shame or guilt at my failing. I can lay myself at the feet of Jesus and trust Him to change me day by day. I can once again surrender my heart and will into His hands and trust Him for His great grace to restore me. My hope in the end doesn’t come from response in the post office parking lot; my hope comes from Jesus, who has loved me and allowed me to once again see how far my heart has to go in my daily life while still being fully accepted and loved by Him. 

Don’t misunderstand me…when an unstable person accosts you in a parking lot, you do not need to have a conversation and are more than free to get to a safe place. What I am saying is that we need to see God’s image in others before we first see the offense that we take upon ourselves.

 

The Accumulative Effect of Bad Knowledge

by Aaron

A few weeks ago Element started a new sermon series going through the book of Proverbs. Proverbs is a book that is centered in wisdom, how to live in God’s world in a way that reflects who He is and what He has done in our lives. As a matter of fact Proverbs is part of a section that was (and is) known as the “Wisdom Literature.” We are calling the series “Counter-Culture” because we want to bring about hope, life, healing, and grace which seems to be so counter to our culture of self-centered interest. 

One of the things that Proverbs leads us to is the difference between knowledge and wisdom. Biblically speaking, knowledge is good and we should learn things (lots of things). I believe Christian’s should be a people who are known by “knowledge,” but I also think that knowledge in and of itself is can be bad. If knowledge doesn’t go anywhere, or it isn’t lived properly, it has the power to destroy and not build up. Knowledge is principles and wisdom becomes the practice of how we live certain things out in our lives. Knowledge must become wisdom and it does that through life experience; this is why we are reminded in James 1:22 to be “doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”

In the first two messages in Proverbs I talked about the difference between good and bad knowledge, but I believe the message left it on the surface and didn’t go much deeper. I mentioned that in the book of Genesis humans were supposed to trust God for ALL good knowledge and listen to what He said, but we went in search of bad knowledge and so destroyed our relationship with God, ourselves and even creation. When I say “bad knowledge” what I mean is that man was never supposed to have knowledge of sin and death because they were not necessary to real and true life (they knew what sin was, but they didn’t need to experience sin themselves). We do not need to have the personal knowledge of alcoholism, drug abuse, or infidelity in relationships, there is some knowledge we simply don’t need. 

I asked a friend of mine last week while our Gospel community gathered together why he was so quiet, his response broke my heart, “I don’t have anything to share, my whole life seems to be the accumulation of bad knowledge.” Not to make it all about me, but I instantly felt like a bad preacher and pastor because I didn’t mean to heap guilt and shame on people, I meant to lead everyone to a place where they understood that our bad knowledge is meant to lead us to Jesus for the good knowledge of His grace and salvation.

As honestly as I can say this, my friend’s response should be most of our response because when we see the reality of our lives they become a clear picture of the accumulation of bad knowledge. The beauty of the Good News of Jesus is that He can even take this bad knowledge and turn that into wisdom for His glory and our ultimate good. The difference between good and bad knowledge was not to say that there is some people who only live in good knowledge and that if you have experienced detox, a divorce, or a country music concert then your life is a waste; it was meant to say that all of our lives are a waste without the goodness of Jesus and His rescue of us. 

We do not need to hide in shame and guilt from our bad knowledge, we look at it with honest reflection understanding what our lives look like when not centered in the Gospel. Good and bad knowledge is only ever meant to be the first step (it is facts and truth), good and bad knowledge can both transition to wisdom when we begin to live it out in ways that honor Jesus. 1 Corinthians 8:1 we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. All knowledge, good and bad, if not transitioned to wisdom will become self-centered self-reflection. Knowledge comes very fast because every day, every situation, we are accumulating knowledge. Wisdom on the other hand comes slow because it takes those life experiences and should view them in light of the cross in order to bring about wisdom. 

James 3:13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness (humbleness) of wisdom. One of the first things wisdom brings is humility, a focus that is not on ourselves. It means that in becoming wise there were probably lots of mistakes along the way (bad knowledge), instead of that leading to guilt and shame it can (if we let it) instead lead us to humbleness before God’s good salvation. If we want to see our culture and world change it will always start and end with the Jesus’ wisdom, not our own. We need wisdom and knowledge so we can participate in God’s work of creating a culture that honors who He is in all things. It is why we don’t run from or hide our bad knowledge, instead we lay it at the feet of Jesus so we can use even that bad things to grow us in His wisdom.

 

Community Good Friday 2018 - Why Have You Forsaken Me

by Aaron

Good Friday

Every few years I am asked to take part in a community Good Friday service. In these services we cover the 7 last statements of Jesus. Various preachers from the community are each given one of these that we share (for 5-7 minutes) as a reflection of why we call Good Friday good. Most of you work and can’t make it to the service, so as I do every year I speak at the service, I am going to post my manuscript of what I am talking about so you can have a little piece of what the service entailed. Here you go:
 
In Matt 27:46 Jesus cries out to His Father, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" There is no other verse that causes as much controversy as this one. People have asked if this was Jesus faltering or was He questioning the Father and the plan of salvation…I will do my best to help you understand (as best we can)what is happening here in less than 5 minutes.
 
If you ask people what is salvation is from, the answers are mostly: death, sin, Satan, but Romans 5:9-10 defines salvation as deliverance by God from God and His wrath against sin. Sin destroys relationship, sin brings death, and God hates it. Death is not the stopping of our hearts or the synapses in our brain no longer firing impulses to our bodies, death is separation. It is separation from Life, from God, who is our source of life.
 
Kenneth Bailey writes extensively about Middle Eastern culture and he speaks about a 1st century Jewish custom called the kezazah.  Kezazah is a Hebrew phrase that means "the cutting off."In the story of the prodigal son a young man goes to his father and asks for his inheritance before his father died, it was very insulting and the boy is essentially telling his father he wished he was dead.
 
If a Jewish boy takes his inheritance and loses it among the Gentiles, so the Gentiles end up with all the resources that had been a part of Israel, he was seen to be cut off.The village would gather together and find a clay pot, which would be a symbol for the life of the boy, and they would break it (many times in front of the boy) on his return home. It was a way to say, "This is the brokenness that you have caused in our community."  They were showing that he had broken the trust and heart not simply of the father, but of the entire village. Broken pot, broken life, broken trust, broken community, broken faith…it was separation, “you are dead to us.” It was to show that you could never be whole, you were not welcome, and you certainly were not family.
 
In the story of the prodigal son the child loses everything and won’t go home, most likely because he knows kezazah is waiting for him. This son will end up on the very door step of starvation rather than go back, until he finally remembers the kindness of the father. But even when he remembers his dad’s character he formulates a plan work off his debt himself. This is how many people approach God today, this is why we say things like, "if I went into a church lightning would strike me" or "the walls would fall down;" it is this innate feeling of kezazah. It is why Christianity is so ridiculed by people who haven't surrendered all they are to Jesus, because to truly follow Jesus we must see and understand our own lost-ness, our own weakness.
 
When this boy does go home the father sees him and runs to him, because if the village would have caught him first the Kezazah ceremony would take place. He gets to his boy first, he embraces his son, and brings him back into family. We live post resurrection and I think we get a unique perspective on this parable, we get to look at it in light of the cross. It's like Jesus says, "If you want to know how much the Father loves you, look at the Cross, because out of Father's love for you, His own son became broken…forsaken…cut off." His body was broken on the Cross, in many ways we can never even fathom. "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?On the Cross, Jesus becomes kezazah, cut off, and all this is done so we can come home.
 
1 John 1:8-10 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.Admitting unworthiness and inability is difficult because we have spent our whole lives trying to prove we are anything but unworthy. We want to believe that our mistakes are not that bad, that deep down we are still pretty good people. But when we will acknowledge our sinfulness John’s continues: 1 John 2:1-2 “But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” God has testified not only to our sinfulness, but also to His graciousness. He has told us that He so loved the world that He did for us what we could not do for ourselves. Jesus, God in the flesh, lived the life we should have lived and then died the death we had been condemned to die. By doing so He put away our death forever.
 
Advocate is a legal term, referring to someone who argues your case before the bar of justice on your behalf. Normally an advocate argues for your innocence—or that you should not be punished based on extenuating circumstances (your general good character demonstrated in other places). Our Advocate does no such thing. Jesus never argues for our goodness, He argues His righteousness in our place.

This is where Matt 27 comes in, Jesus does not argue our worthiness, He argues His substitution. We may not be worthy to be forgiven, but He is worthy to forgive us.
 
1 John 1:9 John says that Jesus is “faithful and just to forgive us our sins.” John didn’t say that God is “merciful” and “kind” to forgive our sins (though God is MERCIFUL and KIND), but the basis of God’s forgiveness of us is not mercy, it is justice. Jesus paid the full penalty for our sin; not an ounce of judgment remains.
 
If we think of Jesus standing before God begging for mercy, or leniency, on our behalf, it will provide little comfort. "God, can you give Aaron one more chance? He’s a good guy. Please?" We would always wonder when we would reach the end of God’s patience. But Jesus does not appeal to God for mercy on my behalf, He appeals for justice because Jesus has satisfied all the claims against me. He know says to the Father, “I paid the full price for this sin. I took the penalty due to him so that he could have the credit due to Me."
 
For those in Christ, this is the confidence we have before God. We don’t hope we are forgiven, we know it, because our standing before God has nothing to do with our worthiness, but the worthiness of the Advocate (JESUS) who now stands in our place. He was forsaken that we may be brought in. This is why there is only ONE hope for a sinful people, and it is Jesus.

What If Someone Doesn't Believe In Baptism?

by Aaron

Question: I have a friend who is solid on the gospel, the good news of Jesus, but has one primary area where he believes differently than most: baptisms. He believes baptism is an early church cultural symbol and doesn’t need be practiced today. Would Element still allow this person to become a member if not baptized (due to strong belief rather than laziness)? 

Answer: People today have many reasons why they don’t want to partake in certain rites that the church practices. I have heard the cultural objections and the personal objections to baptism, and while I believe God’s Spirit will guide us when we listen, I think a good place to start is: does your friend partake in communion? Do they see communion as something that was simply an early church custom, and that it doesn’t need to be practiced today because most people today do not understand completely what it means?

Most people, when you ask the question about communion say, “Well, Jesus said to ‘do this in remembrance of me’” (Luke 22:19, 1 Cor 11:24). Similarly, Jesus also said in Matt 28:19-20: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Simply because our current culture doesn’t understand a practice, should not mean that it is no longer valid. The church has awkward songs that we still use today, with words like “There is a fountain of blood” and “Here I raise my Ebenezer.” I would say far from jettisoning these songs, we should instead seek to educate people on the full understanding of what Jesus did “with His blood.” Not knowing the parties involved, could it be possible your friend’s stance on baptism is simply a point of pride? Sometimes people get to a point where they like to have something that sets them apart from others in doctrine and as we know, even the most godly people can easily fall into pride. I am not saying this is the case, it is just simply a question that springs to mind.  

I would ask your friend if this stance is a place that they have come to after prayer and seeking God’s counsel. Would they be willing to attend a baptism celebration with others to give God glory for the amazing work He has done in people’s lives? I ask these questions because it helps to understand how this person views baptism.

Let me also say that baptism has nothing to with salvation; we are saved by grace alone. If people are not baptized during their life on earth, it makes them no less a child of God—right standing before God and forgiveness of sin is no different. But the question you asked wasn’t about salvation; it came down to church membership at Element. We believe that the early church came together and celebrated around two main rites, communion and baptism. At Element, we also want to celebrate with one another what God is doing in our lives—this is why we celebrate baptism and communion.

Baptisms at Element entail a big party with food, laughter, joy, and stories that center around redemption. Before people get baptized, we have a class (we even have two versions—a long one and a short one) to educate people on what baptism represents and why we do it. Through baptism, we make a public statement about our lives and commitment to walk in the ways Jesus calls us. Baptism is not magical, but it is a deeply spiritual event that reflects the work Jesus has done in our lives. As your friend said, it is a symbol, but it also presents us with an amazing opportunity to speak of Christ’s work today. The act of baptism represents the death and resurrection of Christ, and also the truth that God is restoring and placing (immersing) us in His family. 

The entire point for us is the public identification with Christ and His work within us. He is our great God and Savior that has come to restore a broken humanity that cannot have a relationship with God on our own. He is the Redeemer, He is the Remedy, He is the Hope, and He is our Life. At Element, we believe it is important for people around us to understand the changes that are taking place in our own lives based on the work of Christ in us. To help others understand what baptism is and what it means to those being baptized on a personal level, we ask them to share their stories in booklet form (you can read some of those here). 

At Element, we do require baptism as part of membership, but it is not required for involvement. We have plenty of people who are involved in Gospel Communities, serve in various ministries, and are vital to the life of Element that aren’t official “members”…(I would add the caveat ‘yet.’) Also, baptism for membership doesn’t mean you have to be baptized at Element; it simply means that you have partaken in baptism at some point. It is part of who we are. Just as baptism doesn’t save us and isn’t meant to be a badge of honor or pride, not being baptized shouldn’t be a point of contention or pride. 

This is who we are as a church, and we do all that we do with the hope that one day everyone who attends a baptism celebration will come to the saving knowledge of trusting in Jesus with their life.

 

Why Jesus and Not Immanuel?

by Aaron

Last Sunday, we covered Jesus coming as God in the flesh, and I thought it would be an appropriate time to answer a question I occasionally hear. The question comes from Isaiah 7:14 and Mathew 1:22-23: Matt 1:21-23: “’She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23  “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).” The question is: “Why wasn’t Jesus named Immanuel if that’s what the prophets said we would call Him?” 

As short and simple as I can say it, Immanuel is a title and descriptor of who Jesus was (or is). This is similar to how we use POTUS (President of the United States); for the rest of a former president’s life, they are known as “Mr. President,” and not Mr. Reagan, Mr. Bush, Mr. Clinton, Mr. Obama, or Mr. Trump. Their names are still Ronald, George, William, Barack, and Donald, but we call them by a title.

When it says, “…and they shall call his name Immanuel,” this simply means that “God with us” is what and who He was (and is). In Isaiah 9:6, the prophet says, “…and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” If that was His actual name, Jesus’ birth certificate would be pretty long! Jeremiah 23:6 states, “In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness…” That is also a pretty long title for a birth certificate. The word “LORD” is the word YHWH, God’s personal name. He didn’t call Jesus YHWH, though He was God in the flesh. All of these verses are descriptions of what Jesus would do—bring God’s righteousness to His people. Like 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

In Luke 1:32-33 the angel says to Mary, “´He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’” Mary didn’t name Jesus “Son of the Most High God,” because she understood the angel’s words; plus, in Luke 1:31, the angel said, “’You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.’”

This is why we can sing Christmas songs about Jesus being Immanuel, or say that He is the Son of God, or speak of Him being our Savior and King, and still call Him Jesus…because that’s His name (at least how Americans pronounce it anyway).

For Now Or Just Then?

by Aaron

Today I had someone involved in our Women’s Bible Study ask a question that I hope more people would consider: “How do we know which promises are for us or the Israelites in the Old Testament?”

In our world today, we tend to like soundbites that we can apply to our lives, rather than look at the whole message a person is saying. Soundbites are one of the ways we can keep people from looking as bad as they actually were at times. We do this for Christian thinkers like A.W. Tozer, often remembered for the great things he wrote, but he also had a horrible marriage because of how he personally neglected his wife. We quote people like David Livingstone, the often heralded missionary giant, yet conveniently don’t talk about how he sent his family to live in near poverty in Britain and never even really knew his children. Our culture loves soundbites because we like to focus on what makes us feel (personally) good.

This focus on ourselves relates to how we view the Bible, as well; we take bits and pieces we like out of context because they “speak to us” or “give us what we need”…not realizing those things may not mean what we think they mean. This is a long way of saying that I appreciate a question about what promises are actually for us and which one aren’t, because as a culture, we typically think everything is for us. In one sense, it is true—it is for us…we believe the Bible wasn’t written to us per se, but it was written for us. The Scriptures were written to a particular people in a particular place in time, but the words transcend time and are useful and didactic to us today.

In one sense, if read correctly, the promises from the Old Testament not directly referring to specific events (Israel’s battles during the Exodus, for example), can have broad meaning. It can be read different ways because many promises spoken in the Old Testament are reiterated in various ways in the New Testament. Take as an example the promise to Joshua as he prepares to finally enter the Promised Land. God says to him in Joshua 1:9: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” This is most certainly a definite promise given to Joshua AND the whole people of Israel…but look in the New Testament:

  • 2 Corinthians 13:11: “Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.”
  • Philippians 4:9: “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

We may not be going to conquer a land given to us by God, but God still promises to be with us. Even when telling His disciples to go out and make more disciples, Jesus says in Matthew 28 that He will be with them (which I also take to mean us when we follow the great commission).

It is important to remember the character of God has not changed from the Old to the New Testaments, God is the same. In Malachi 3:6 God says “I, the Lord, do not change.” In Hebrews 13:11 we are told “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” In this way, Biblical promises that don’t even directly apply to us can still reveal truths about God’s character. But…here is my issue. Many people from Western culture (like ours) don’t know how to read the promises of God in the context in which they were written. We instead read them as soundbites for us, not as words spoken to a whole people. 

As an example, a big one people love to take out of context is Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future…” Our culture tends to read those words as written to “me” as an individual and not how God intended it, to a whole people; this has caused many issues today, especially within the Church. We think God wants to prosper me, God has a future for me…which is true, but not how this verse means those words. Jeremiah 29:11 is written to a whole people (the nation of Israel), who were in Babylonian captivity, essentially slaves to a world super power. He is promising these people a future and a hope (which is something they would have understood because that’s how their culture saw things, as a people, not an individual). Not everyone survived, not everyone’s children made it back, some people were tortured and killed…but as a whole, they understood that God would bring them (their whole people) back into a future and a hope…(by the way, it took seventy years).

I think our larger problem is trying to read specific things into the text that are not there. Think of Roman’s 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” As Western people we naturally read the word “me” into this verse, as in: “God works for the good of me.” Ancient readers would not have seen it as God obligating Himself to bring about our own perceived personal good in a situation. They would have seen this as a collective promise to “those” (plural) who love Him, who are called to His purpose.

Yes, God loves us (personally), yes, God wants His good in our lives (personally), but God has always intended for his followers to be a connected people who see His promises as a collective, within the overarching story of what He is doing in the world. We do much damage to our faith and to non-believers by trying to read into the Bible what is not there. We must become a people who see His promises as intended, trust them, and walk corporately together to be His priests to this world.

The First Gospel

by Aaron

This blog post will actually go along with Didn’t See That Coming: Week 2, wherein we talked about how God made everything good and mankind ran in the opposite direction and fell. The message also centered on God’s promised rescue of humankind in the coming child, Jesus, who would restore us to what He made us to be—His image bearers. In that message I quoted Genesis 3:15, where God says, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” I said that I believe the word referring to the woman’s offspring was singular, yet the word for the serpent’s offspring was plural. Before I get questions from budding theologians, I want to answer why I say that. 

Warning: I may lose some of you in the explanation of the words that I am about to write, and I am sorry. If you do get lost, I am simply saying that I believe when God makes this promise, which is about Jesus’ coming, that He is specifically referring to Jesus (in contrast to the serpent’s offspring, which would be all people who actively reject Jesus and seek to destroy who He is). I believe that Genesis 3:15 is the first time the Gospel was proclaimed (and it was proclaimed by Jesus Himself...hence, the preaching of the first Gospel).

Here we go…

In Genesis 3:15 there is an underlying current of headship…the snake and the woman representing more than just themselves. This is why the author is careful to notate the word “offspring,” which is actually the literal word “seed” (“offspring” is more understandable in our modern minds). The first half of the verse describes the enmity between the serpent and the woman; the second half is in regard to enmity among their seeds or offspring (“he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel”). The word for offspring or seed (“zerah” in Hebrew) can be plural or singular; I believe it is plural when referring to the serpent. Though it does refer to God’s people as a whole, it is singular when referring to the woman’s eventual, specific seed (Jesus). (Notice how the verse refers to a “He.”)

The author lumps the serpent and his offspring together as one, and as having one goal: to try and destroy God’s image in man and ultimately stop the promise of God’s redemption. There has always been strife (or enmity) between those who hate God and those who love Him; many times, those who hate God masquerade as those who claim to love Him, doing more damage to God’s name than those with open hostility. When Jesus actually comes, he delivers on Genesis 3:15: crushing the serpent’s head (singular), while also dealing a blow to those (plural) who would seek to destroy who God called man to be, His image bearers. 

John Sailhamer writes, “What happens to the snake’s ‘seed’ in the distant future can be said to happen to the snake as well. This suggests that the author views the snake in terms that extend beyond this particular snake of the garden…The snake is represented by his ‘seed.’ When that ‘seed’ is crushed, the head of the snake is crushed.” When we speak of the war that humanity finds itself in, we tend to forget that it is not God versus the Devil—as if anything could stand against God. The war is between man and Satan/sin/death. This is a war mankind willingly started (the rebellion in Genesis 3) and had no chance of winning. This is why God Himself came, as a man without sin, to win the war on our behalf.

Sailhamer points out that when Genesis 3:15 starts to talk about the woman’s seed, it looks as if it is written for a point in time far removed from the woman…as if to raise the question, “Who is her seed?” The rest of Genesis, and the rest of the Scriptures, will spend their focus answering that question. The result of the woman’s sin leads to greater pain in childbirth and strife with her husband, among other tragic consequences we see and experience today. However, the promise of Genesis 3:16 once again points to a child that would be born of a woman in fulfillment of God’s promise of redemption. 

All of this is my roundabout way of simply restating that God knew what He was going to do to rescue man from the very start. So often we question and worry over the course of our lives, when we need to instead trust God and live out His calling for us. We were made to reflect God’s peace to the world, His goodness that He gives to us; though we have destroyed that peace and hidden that goodness behind a wall of disobedience, God Himself comes to break down that wall so we again can not only see His peace and goodness, but actually live in it (…and we didn’t see that coming)!

It’s So Loud

by Aaron

Today I received an email from someone who USED TO attend Element. Your first question is probably, “what did you you do? Why did they leave?” Well, they didn’t leave because of something I did, they left because of something Uncle Sam did when the Air Force moved them away. This is now their second transfer since leaving the Central Coast and we still keep in touch periodically. Today he sent me a question about Element’s stance on volume of music during services.

He said that for the first time ever he, “had to leave a worship service after having had my fingers in my ears for a few minutes…I talked with the sound guy afterwards, and encountered a relatively prideful position of ‘this is how we do it.’” He pointed out that this isn’t him trying to put his tastes upon the whole group, “If I don’t like a mix, or the way the drummer is mic’d, or the style of a song, or how silly an electric guitar player is acting...I can get over that (and have).” But then he says, “the ringing [in his ears] didn’t stop until later that afternoon.” If you are wondering if he felt this way at Element, he did say, “I never had even a moment of this issue at Element. There might have been a time or two I put my fingers in my ears, by they were transient and not a pattern” and his wife didn’t feel the same and thought the volume was always fine. 

I found his email interesting because he asked how Element would like to be approached about this issue by people who feel this way. Last week a blog actually came across my feed where the writer said the volume needs to be low enough that you can hear your neighbor sing because that will make you want to sing. It also said volume needs to be low enough that OTHERS can hear YOU sing because that will make you want to sing. I actually totally disagree with the blog writer as we have found the quieter that the band gets, the quieter that the congregation gets. Everyone actually seems to be afraid others will hear them be like an off pitch American Idol reject.

At Element we believe volume should be in a place that you could feasibly sing comfortably without worrying about others. What is pretty cool from a band side of things is that when people enjoy a song and everyone truly joins in, we (as the band) can actually hear that OVER the instruments. All of these things are a tough line to find and sometimes we do it right and sometimes we don’t. The problem is everyone has an opinion and we all feel our opinions are correct and that those who don’t agree with us are wrong (it stems from the little thing called sin).

At Element we have done a couple of things to try and alleviate some of the volume issues. First service is typically turned down a bit as first service is usually lower in attendance and when there are less people there are less bodies absorbing sound waves. Second, we supply ear plugs for anyone who wants them back at the sound booth (some kids have tried to eat them thinking they are candy…they are not). Third, we have various staff members walk through the room on occasion to listen for volume levels. We hope that over time we as a church have become more consistent in our levels and our approach. I have even had people say that the electric guitar needs to turn up at times (you almost never hear that and I am happy to always oblige).

How should my friend approach it where he is now? How would Element like to be approached about it? I do not think approaching the sound guy is anyone’s best bet. Sound guys get the short straw every week. Anything that goes wrong in a service they are automatically blamed for, even if it had nothing to do with them. They get a lot of complaints (and in-turn) shut off and can become territorial because people don’t usually ask them questions, they usually get people’s opinions foisted upon them. Find out who is over the service from an “arts” point of view and talk to them instead. Approach the music leader and speak with him/her about your issues and the volume concern.

From Element’s experience, there have been some people who have shared their concerns and we have dismissed them (we did listen though), but there was nothing we could really do about it (this was more along the lines of style). At other times people have shared and we have taken their words into account and tried to change. When the band hits a first chord and everyone kind of moves back a step, it is too loud, but something to understand is that many times the music leader doesn’t even realize the volume issue because they are on the other side of the main PA speakers than the congregation.  

In everything we must be those who extend grace and try to see the issue from all sides, not simply our own. Zac Hicks wrote, “Regardless of your tradition, volume may be one of the top three perennial ‘unsolvable’ problems in worship planning and leading. No matter which way you go, someone is unhappy.”

We are told that when we worship through song it should be LOUD:

“Sing to him a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts” (Psalm 33:3);

“Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy!” (Psalm 47:1);

“Praise him with loud clashing cymbals!” (Psalm 150:5).

Hicks writes, “Joy, again and again in the Psalms, seems to be associated with pushing the faders up, pressing the organ volume pedal to the floor, and turning the amps up to eleven. The joy of salvation and deliverance is expressed in shouts (Psalm 20:5; 27:6; 32:7, 11; 33:1; 35:27; 42:4; 47:5; 65:8; 66:1; 81:1; 89:15; 126:2; 132:9). Trumpets (no mutes in the ancient Near East) were blasted (Ps 47:5; 98:6; 150:3). So it seems that the loud end of the dynamic spectrum is appropriate for worship music.

We are also told that when we worship through song it should be SOFT:

“I have calmed and quieted my soul” is what one worship song sings (Psalm 131:2).

Hicks again, “Psalm 95 verses 1-5 express loud, thankful, jubilant worship. But Verses 6-7 encourage a different posture: bowed, quiet, reverent. Alongside the admonitions to leap, clap, and shout are the edifying words that whisper “be still” (Ps 37:7; 46:10) and “wait” (Ps 25:5, 21; 33:20; 37:7; 130:5)…In the Psalms, therefore, we hear that low decibels, even a zero reading, are appropriate for worship music.”

In the end it is how we approach Jesus in our attitude of worship that matters, but let us never forget worship is all that we do…so it matters how we approach one another as well.

Gospel Fluency (Book and Videos)

by Michael Reed
in Gospel

Today our women’s bible study began this week with their fall study on the book: Gospel Fluency by Jeff Vanderstelt. If your schedule allows, and you are a woman, you are invited to join them at 9:30am at Element, even if you missed this week’s study, join in next week!
 
However, if you are not a woman or aren’t able to make a mid-week morning study, we still highly recommend you pick up this book to read it. This is a subject that we as leaders strive for Element to have as part of its culture: to see every conversation we have through the lens of the gospel.
 
How does the good news that Jesus has come to rescue and redeem His people (you and me) speak truth into every situation we face today? How do we become fluent in the language of the gospel and apply these truths to our own hearts, fears, desires and identities? How do we,  as well as to our family members, coworkers, neighbors, friends, and those we come into contact with become re-centered on Jesus’ words and works? How do we move from cliché slogans to heart felt responses that lead people to further faith and submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ? The answer is a greater understanding of the Gospel.
 
This book is the tipping point of that understanding. Gospel Fluency  looks at what a community committed to speaking and hearing gospel truths looks like. The book focuses on the gospel as applied to every aspect of our lives in order to become “fluent.” It reminds us to extend grace when we don’t want to, and support each other when we try.
 
We would love if Element’s culture was so saturated in Gospel Fluency, that whenever someone from our city has contact with a member of Element, they encounter Jesus in both word and deed.
 
Please consider picking up this book. If reading isn’t the way you learn (you probably haven’t read this far) then check out these videos on the subject.
 

Part 1: What is the Gospel


Part 2: Gospel Fluency

 

Part 3 & 4 Q&A